Ari Aster’s Midsommar is a film with plenty of horror archetypes to cement it firmly in the genre: Three generally unlikable guys, a foreign (to American audiences) hottie, and a bereft and expressive young woman head into the backwoods (or fields?) of Europe to see the secretive rites of a local commune. The results can easily be assumed, with plenty of twists along the way.
The theatrical release was a tightly knit, well-crafted film that hit hard and enjoyed a great deal of success. The director’s cut primarily provides us more pithy lines from the guys and greater camerawork. One stand out in this version is the work of cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski.
After viewing this longer version, I truly think his work is not being talked about enough. The theatrical shows off his skill capturing a great deal of motion with a large number of people, as seen during the May Queen dance sequence. But with the director’s cut we get mind-bending shots that elongate space and adds to our general anxiety about what mysteries will be revealed in full gory spectacle.
On the way to their celebratory demise, we get a lot of bits of conversations and shots of Dani sleeping in the car to underscore the relationship and disconnects between these well-established characters. To cement us, we are focused on Dani, until she’s awake and everyone begins having a minor disagreement.
To put us in the tiny space of the car, the camera dolly-moves from one side of the hood to the other, slowly shifting our point of view and focus from one character’s points to another. It is one of the more clever ways to build discontent between characters I’ve seen.
To prepare for specific scenes as Dani, Florence Pugh would find a quiet space off set to put on headphones to play sad music and cry. Her devotion to the emotional journey of Dani is clearly felt. Yet it leaves me wondering just how Bandersnatched Will Poulter prepared off-set to be such a complete and total d-bag. This is truly the scene-stealing performance in Aster’s cut of his pagan death trip movie.
The characters are all pretty clear archetypes. We know what will happen to the anthropologist who is too curious. The disappearance of the man-child who sexualizes every woman he meets is unsurprising. Our handsome Swedish stranger having been in on it is also less of a shock to those aware of “come meet the family” horror movies that have been making a comeback, as we saw with the success of Jordan Peele’s Get Out.
But a major difference with this film is that even for the over the top conversations between “guys being guys”, we know these men. The addition of academic thesis drama over a failing relationship and intense interpersonal interactions that we know have a great deal of history makes it all the more effective and, dare I say, elevates this genre offering.
“Bro that’s just not healthy.” — some guy sitting behind me at Doc Films. Chicago, 2019
Sitting in a theater full of late teens and early 20-somethings, I wondered how many of the guffaws and men muttering “that’s not healthy bro” were currently holding hands with the most toxic relationship of their 20s. We all make mistakes at that age that grow more regrettable the older we get. Some of us keep making them.
Granted, if any generation is going to reverse the inherent sexism, misogynistic gaslighting, and general inequality of hetero relationships, it’s going to be Gen Z.
The viewing I attended was put on by Doc Films, which is hosted on the University of Chicago campus, and A24. It was packed with students and film aficionados from across the city, all waiting patiently in line as early as an hour before hand.
On the bus stop afterward I ran into another attendee (maybe 10 years yonger than myself) who felt the audience laughed too much, and at things that were too obvious. I don’t disagree, but I think the beauty of this movie is that it touches on some very basic fuckboyery and balances it with very real critique of relationships and just how much it takes to leave after putting up with so much. Overall, it’s a very well-crafted film.
Aster still does unacceptable things, and with this cut he embellishes on them: the use of bodies as horror in the sense that there are some weird ones out there is a disturbing trend. The bodies of older women particularly come into his lens in both Hereditary and Midsommar. That being said, is he commenting on our aversion to nudity except in extremely specific circumstances?
I began wondering more about this the more I noticed the grad school chic wardrobe on our protagonists. Every “new blood” woman in the film wears the kind of enviable $300 pure linen digs that make me feel unconscionably self-conscious on the historic University of Chicago campus in cloistered Hyde Park.
This kind of wardrobe is purchased at Anthropologie and other places on Michigan avenue that I push my nose up against the window at but am too afraid to enter. It’s cut for fashion, yet it’s functional and copies classically efficient designs like overalls and sensible trousers. Every outfit in Midsommar is in natural fabrics and muted colors that show taste and elegance while also having very real pockets (the “pocket tax” is real for those who shop for women’s clothing).
It’s the wardrobe I saw through out hostel and hotels in Europe. And through the choice of these clothes the class and social standing of these characters is clearly defined. It also curiously desexualizes a horror movie that deals directly with sexual themes. Someone’s fashion art history thesis is here.
The audience has everything to do with our experience of these bodily differences. When I saw the theatrical version of Midsommar for instance, there were very audible gasps whenever a pair of less than perky breasts appeared. They magnified when we saw the sagging buttocks of a woman tasked with getting Christian’s (Jack Reynor) job done when he was failing.
“Look at her ass!” — some guy sitting behind me in an AMC Theater. Chicago, 2019.
The audience for this screening were undoubtedly more “woke” in the classical sense than my first viewing. There were no reactions to non traditional bodily depictions, but the relationship woes hit harder with all of us.
Speaking of audible audience participation: to the woman beside me who had a good, long, heavy breath out when Swedish bae (Vilhelm Blomgren) asks Dani if her current partner feels like “home” to her: Same, sister. Same. Pelle has likely inspired a new generation of relationships and I definitely didn’t just rewatch this film to feel held by that scene again.
And speaking of mutually loving relationships, can we stop traumatizing our young girls during their first time? I want to see lubricant, oral sex, and a warm up at the next Hårga “new blood” impregnation. Also, equal genitalia representation you cowards.
I took Midsommar very personally on the first viewing. It was a classic horror movie experience the second time with all the gagging, gasps, and “don’t go in there!” that implies. And I wouldn’t now have it any other way.